In search of the romantic kiss

Rafael Sabatini's Captain Blood brought to visual life on the cover of Pearson's Magazine (1930) by Joseph Greenup

Rafael Sabatini’s Captain Blood brought to visual life on the cover of Pearson’s Magazine (1930) by Joseph Greenup

Fiction, in the form of short stories, serials or character-driven series, seems to have been a staple of magazines for as long as they have existed. Dickens, HG Wells, Conan Doyle and Rafael Sabatini are among those who made their name providing the weekly or monthly adventures, Christie and Edgar Wallace the crime, and Ursula Bloom and Ruby M. Ayres the romantic fiction. The Georgian and early Victorian works by the likes of Dickens were not illustrated, but the images of Sidney Paget for The Strand set the tone for the way Holmes has been portrayed, in print or on the screen, since they were first published.

To my eyes, depicting adventure is relatively easy – whether it be the Martian invaders for War of the Worlds or the piratical looks of Sabatini’s Captain Blood by Joseph Greenup – but romantic fiction is harder. Particularly in more prurient times, getting the balance right between love and lust is tricky. Artists, and later photographers, have striven to portray romance – and in particular the kiss. Here are two examples. The first is an illustration from ‘Honesty is the best policy’, a short story by Jane England in Woman’s Friend (22 May 1937). England started writing in the 1920s until about 1970, producing about 60 novels. Philsp.com lists England as the pseudonym of Vera Murdoch Stuart Jervis (1896-1967) and credits her with one serial and five short stories in five magazine titles:

  • ‘End of desire’, The Novel Magazine (May 1937);
  • ‘Knight-errant’, Lovat Dickson’s Magazine (Jun 1934);
  • ‘The last drift’, The Royal Magazine (Nov 1925);
  • ‘Old lamps’, The New Magazine (Oct 1926);
  • ‘Thin ice’, 20-Story Magazine (Feb 1933).

The drawing is signed, but this is not legible.

The youngsters steal a kiss in a short story from Woman's Friend (22 May 1937)

The youngsters steal a kiss in a short story from Woman’s Friend (22 May 1937)

Here is a detail of the painting, with the signature (which someone may be able to identify). Note the corner of the picture frame by the man’s shoulder, which seems to point to the courting couple like an arrow, and the file storage boxes on the shelf leaning into each other.

Detail of Woman's Friend romantic kiss illustration

Detail of Woman’s Friend romantic kiss illustration

Illustration signature

Illustration signature

The drawing was published by Woman’s Friend in 1937, while the photographic spread below dates from three years earlier. It was during the 1930s that the battle for dominance between artist and photographer in magazines reached its peak, and, after the war, it was the latter that came out on top. At least for the next 50 years.

How film stars kiss from London Life 30 June 1934

How film stars kiss from London Life 30 June 1934

The spread is from London Life, which specialised in reproducing risqué film stills. It is a montage of five film stills as the woman swoons in anticipation in the man’s arms. At the top left are Ronald Coleman, with, below him and the unidentified actress, Mexican actress Lupe Vélez in the grip of John Boles in Resurrection (1931); Jean Harlow is in a ‘caveman embrace’ in the centre; and while the oldest still of a couple in a similar embrace is not identified, the bottom right is a more light-hearted Maurice Chevalier and Anne Dvorak in Way to Love (1933). Note, though, that the actual kiss is not shown, possibly because it was very difficult to portray a kiss while still being able to see the faces of both parties in a recognisable way. But then, after all, this was film publicity – and anticipation was everything.

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2 Responses to “In search of the romantic kiss”

  1. Downton in search of the ultimate romantic kiss | Magforum Says:

    […] an earlier post noted, though, illustrating the bliss of the kiss is tricky. Here is one attempt by Woman’s Own in 1938. The woman is all expectation as the man – […]

  2. Racy pin-ups – Edwardian style | Magforum Says:

    […] were still a novelty in magazines, so the romantic kiss of the canoodling couple on the cover was just the start of 32 pages of pictures. The caption […]

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